With its powder white beaches, crystal clear water, and gastronomic delights, Mexico’s Caribbean Coastline is an iconic paradise suitable for any traveler’s bucket list. The ever-popular Cancun and trendy Playa del Carmen are great places to base your stay, but resist the urge to stay on the mainland—there are plenty of tropical treats that warrant exploration just a short boat ride away.
Here are three awesome islands to get you started:
Only 20 minutes away from Cancun lies the serene Island of Women—otherwise known as Isla Mujeres. There’s not much to necessarily do on the island, but that’s partly what makes it such an idyllic stop. For day-trippers from Cancun, the Garrafon Reef Park is a popular choice. A $79 admission gets you transport to and from the island; breakfast and lunch buffet; an open bar with a variety of mixed drinks and beers; and access to lounge chairs, infinity pools, sea kayaking, snorkeling, and organized bike tours. Don’t go for five-star cuisine or strong margaritas, but do go if you’re with a bunch of girlfriends who want to enjoy the mind-boggling turquoise water via different activities.
Just a few minutes away from Garrafon Natural Reef Park is Punta Sur. If you can make it here for sunrise, you will be the first person in Mexico to greet the dawn, as it breaks here first. Along with the astounding coral cliffs that jut out into the sea, there is an art sculpture park and rugged remains of a small Mayan temple. It doesn’t take long to walk around the southernmost tip, but the panoramic views certainly make the effort worthwhile.
Isla Holbox is still one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets, but it’s not going to stay that way for long—there’s just too much to love. From the moment you arrive you’ll be greeted with a slow-paced tranquility. Locals go about their daily business via golf carts on streets made of packed sand, though it’s not uncommon to see people ambling through the town barefooted as well. Fishermen still walk through the village, carrying their day’s catch in a net. And anyone within a hundred miles will tell you that lobster pizza is the main culinary affair, a cheesy and salty specialty of the island.
In place of sprawling, all-inclusive resorts, you’ll find personal boutique bungalows. I recommend Palapas del Sol. It boasts traditional Mexican bungalows with palm thatched roofs and handcrafted stucco walls on a pristine strip of beach. The views from the hotel’s ‘tower’ are also the best on the entire island.
But perhaps the most enchanting thing about Isla Holbox is that you can easily swim with the world’s biggest fish. Between June and September whale sharks migrate off the coast of the island; a snorkeling encounter with these gentle beasts is almost guaranteed at this time. Unfortunately my last visit to Isla Holbox was in February, firmly outside of the ‘swim with a whale shark’ season. You can rest assured I’m already planning my return visit as soon as possible.
Mexico’s largest island, Cozumel is also arguably its most famous. Just a 30-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, the island is an easy and rewarding destination. There’s a tourist zone with plenty of shopping, restaurants and discothèques to keep all the guests on the cruise ships that dock there happy. Personally I have few memories of this downtown area though as most of my entertainment was found under the sea.
Cozumel is world-renowned for its scuba diving. Most of the area’s dive sites are part of the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park, a park that protects 29,000 acres of the Meso-American reef system—the second largest barrier reef in the world. My first international dive was in Cozumel, and it is one I will never forget. A lazy diver’s dream, you need only hop in and then let the current take you for a ride. Along the way you’ll drift past walls of colorful coral, tropical fish straight out of Finding Nemo, sea turtles and a variety of other marine life. Cozumel is also a great place for beginners due to its warm water and superb underwater visibility.
Do these islands have you dreaming of summer yet? Which getaway sounds like your favorite?